"This started a year ago," Ann Giroux said, surrounded by gift bags and silent auction items in her Greenway mansion with its tulip-lined walkway overlooking Sherwood Gardens.
Giroux was referring to the planning for the Champagne and Tulips Gala on Saturday, May 10, a $200-a-ticket, black-tie fundraiser for the gardens, one of Baltimore's biggest seasonal tourist attractions. But she could just as easily have been referring to Guilford's ambitious centennial celebration that began last year. The gala, which will take over Gertrude's restaurant in the Baltimore Museum of Art, is the culmination of a commemorative year that Giroux said has consumed her life as centennial chairwoman.
"The year as a whole has been madness," she said.
It started in April 2013, with the annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage tour, also a Sherwood Gardens fundraiser, which this year focused on Guilford's homes in honor of the community's 100th year, including the rarely seen, renovated former home of renowned 20th-century artist Grace Turnbull.
Giroux's house, once owned by J. Edward Johnston, aka the Birdman of Guilford, wasn't officially on the tour, but was used as the site of a luncheon for invited guests.
"We may have broken records in terms of attendance and funds raised," Giroux said. The tour and luncheon, plus a temporary gift shop, raised nearly $60,000 for Sherwood Gardens, she said.
The annual Tulip Dig in Sherwood Gardens last May raised $6,000, far more than the $2,500 budgeted.
The yearlong centennial celebration also included walking tours, classes, lectures and slide-shows led by Giroux, who has spent seven years researching and writing several books about the Roland Park Co. District, which built Guilford in 1913.
In December, the special lighting of a holiday tree in the gardens, as well as caroling at a nearby house, drew about 100 people.
"It was probably the coldest day of the year; people still came out," Giroux said.
Celebratory events have continued well into 2014, including a gardener's workshop and an Art in the Park event in the gardens, featuring professional plein air painter Patricia Bennett, Cylburn Arboretum's 2013 artist-in-residence.
The penultimate centennial event was a free concert on Sunday featuring the Jasper String Quartet at Second Presbyterian in Guilford, part of the church's ongoing Community Concerts at Second series.
Now, there's one more event to go, the gala with live music and dancing that will close Gertrude's to the public after 4 p.m. Arrangements have been made down to the last detail, including the flower arrangements by the Mount Royal Garden Club.
Thanks to lead sponsor PRITTE, an organic skin products company, attendees will be able to take home their own custom-made fragrances from the event. They will also see a short film that shows tulips growing "from bud to bloom," Giroux said.
Giroux's house was an elegant clutter last week, with 150 commemorative posters by graphic artist Keith Kellner, as well as gift bags for attendees, stuffed with everything from lip balm to tulip-themed cocktail napkins and limited-edition notecards with a painting of Sherwood Gardens azaleas by Liza Hathaway Matthews, commissioned by Guilford resident Dr. Brendan Collins and his wife.
On a table in the hall were silent auction items like a tulip-themed scarf.
And hanging from the top of French doors was Giroux's champagne-colored gown for the gala, made by Jill Andrews, a couture designer in Hampden.
As much as anything, the centennial has been a celebration of Guilford's history and architecture, such as historic Second Presbyterian, designed by architects Edward Palmer and William Lamdin.
Second Presbyterian's pastor, the Rev. Thomas Blair, feels a kinship with Guilford, which is why the church has hosted several of the centennial events, including the concert at the beginning of the week and a public luncheon during the pilgrimage.
Blair said few people know that when Second Church moved to Guilford from Baltimore Street downtown in the 1920s, the official name of the church was changed to Second Presbyterian Church of Guilford, and the original sanctuary, now a fellowship room called Smith Hall, was built so it pointed east toward the neighborhood and Sherwood Gardens.
"Ever since the 1920s relocation, Second (Presbyterian) Church has tried to be a welcoming neighbor and host," Blair said.
Even as the centennial nods to Guilford's past, it also celebrates the future of the community's best-known asset, Sherwood Gardens, created by John Sherwood in the 1920s. Although it is not a public park, Sherwood Gardens is owned and operated by the nonprofit Stratford Green, which spends $110,000 a year maintaining it, and keeps it free and open to the public.
There's actually a new master plan for Sherwood Gardens, which has not had one since the 1980s, as well as an endowment fund, Giroux said. The goal is to restore a balance of picturesque and pastoral elements, give extensive care to the aging tree canopy and decide whether certain missing trees should be added. Also, some flower beds are being given "a rest" from tulips for a few years, partly because of a fungus problem, she said.
It was plain to see the enduring popularity of crowded Sherwood Gardens on a sunny Sunday, as people from around the region picnicked and took pictures for posterity.
"It's such an amazing resource," said Ashley Fisher, who came from Homeland with her family and a friend from Essex.
"It's a beautiful, peaceful oasis in the city," said Jay Bernstein, of Pikesville.
"We like anything green," said his wife, Dina.
"We came for pictures for the kids," said Linnea Wallington, of Belcamp in northern Harford County, who came with her children and Trevor Holman, a friend and professional photographer.
"He actually picked out this park," she said.
Also posing for pictures was Giroux, who said the centennial celebration "is not just a clubby thing. If that was the case, it's an awful lot of work."
Once it's over, "I am going to be released back into the wild," she joked. She has a contract to write another local history book and is organizing more walking tours of Roland Park and Homeland.
She is glad to have led the celebration of Guilford.
"A lot of people have come to see us that had never spent time in the city."